The sun was warm on our faces, and the leaves crunched beneath our feet. We were happily chatting away, finding fallen trees to climb on and bugs to observe.
My son, daughter, and I were on an adventure.
I’m not always so adventurous on solo (meaning me and the kiddos) road trips, but since we were meeting up with my husband on his business trip, I had decided to make a pitstop at a state park that was en route.
A short hike. A picnic lunch. Then back on the road again.
I had never been to this park or on this trail before. But it was a loop path, so I was convinced I couldn’t get lost.
As we came around the next bend and got closer and closer to what they call the “Sinkhole Pond,” I started to hear it. A low rumbling sound.
At first I thought it was a boat. How nice, I thought. We aren’t alone. But the closer we got, the louder the noise got. The pond was now in view, and there was no boat in sight.
Then it dawned on me. That’s not a motor!
That’s an alligator roaring!
(Now, if you’re reading this and grew up near gators, this information may not alarm you. You’ve learned the ways of the American alligator, aka Alligator mississippiensis. Co-existing is like breathing for you. But as for my cold-climate soul, alligators freak me out. I’d rather encounter a snowstorm. Or a tornado. Or a rattlesnake.)
So we did what all terrified folks do when getting away from a gator: we scurried up the trail as quickly as my 3-year-old’s legs could go. And I tried to remember every piece of “Googled” alligator information I I initially looked up when we moved to Charleston.
Here we were, my son running by my side and my not-yet-one-year-old bumping about in the stroller as I tried to navigate my way around a fallen tree on the leaf-covered path.
At least, what I thought was the path.
Suddenly, the trail was nowhere to be seen.
In my panic, I had lost our way.
All I could see were trees, upon trees, upon trees. It sure was beautiful, as I’ve found most of South Carolina’s scenery to be, but the beauty was lost on me as my heart pounded a little bit harder than usual.
All I knew was the trail and pond (with roaring gator) was behind us.
I had no compass. My cell phone didn’t really hold a signal–and really, who would come to rescue us?
I weighed my options: continue on and hope I was going the right way OR go back, past the alligator, and find the trail again.
I chose the latter.
As I relayed the adventure to my dad later that week, he chuckled. “Do you know where you learned that from?”
“What?” I asked. “You mean turning around? It’s pretty common sense, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s common sense, but every time we hiked, that’s what I told you to do if you got lost. And you know who taught me?”
“Yup,” he said.
He went on to share some of his exciting adventures of losing his way.
Then we both had one of those “aha” moments. (Cue the inspirational music.)
“You can really apply this one to life, can’t you?” he said.
Snippets of my life flooded my memory. Times when I was confused. Times when I had gone back home. Back to safety. Back to what I knew.
Not to stay. Not to hide or refuse to try again. But to evaluate. Plan my next move. Rest until I was ready to wander out again.
“I hope you pass this one on to your children. . . . And maybe bring a compass next time you hit the trails.”
And so I reflect.
Back at my house, where I can safely observe the neighborhood pond alligator from my computer (the gator and I separated by a fence and glass windows), I realize we probably weren’t in any real danger.
But this story is now part of our family narrative. A story my son or daughter might ask me to retell before bed one night. A story that will now include this ending:
When you lose your way, sweet child,
On a hike,
In your choices,
Retrace your steps. Go back to what you already know. Seek people who have been there before you. People who have proven they can be trusted. Who know the way.
Go back to your safe place and re-evaluate.
It’s not always simple.
It’s not always easy.
There may be hurdles along the way.
But sometimes the bravest thing you can do is turn back… Until you’re ready to try again.
Want your own adventure?
To check out some fun hikes around the Charleston, click here.
For safety information regarding alligators, click here. (Just in case.)